Parishes take to the streets to bring peace to the city

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Parishes take to the streets to bring peace to the city

As gun violence in Chicago continues to make national news, Catholic parishes are continuing to do what they can to prevent shootings and to help those affected.
A teen carries a sign and walks in an anti-violence march on July 11 near St. Sabina Parish, 1210 W. 78th Place. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Participants wearing T-shirts with messages of peace listen to a press conference before the march. The march takes place every Friday evening. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Father Michael Pfleger (center) leads a peace march on July 11 through the neighborhood surrounding St. Sabina Parish. Gov. Pat Quinn also attended the march, which drew about 150 people. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

As gun violence in Chicago continues to make national news, Catholic parishes are continuing to do what they can to prevent shootings and to help those affected.

Perhaps the simplest and most visible thing is for churches to be present in their communities, said Father Michael Pfleger, Cardinal George’s delegate for anti-violence initiatives.

Pfleger’s St. Sabina Parish makes its presence felt with a peace rally and march every Friday evening, he said. The parish, located at 1210 W. 78th Place, also has held outdoor block club parties this summer.

“I really think the churches should be out in the community as often as possible,” Pfleger said. “Presence is so important. People in the community are so appreciative of it. It’s also an evangelization tool. It gives the Catholic Church a strong presence in the neighborhood.”

It’s a strategy that has also been embraced by St. Martin de Porres Parish, 5112 W. Washington Blvd., said Father Tom Walsh, St. Martin de Porres pastor. A group of about 60 parishioners and friends of the parish gather from 6 to 7 p.m. each Wednesday on the corner of Adams Street and Laramie Avenue.

Part of the effect is practical — “For the hour or hour and a half that we’re out there, nothing happens on that corner,” Walsh said — and part of it is an exercise in building hope for peace in the neighborhood and sharing information about ways to make that happen, as participants distribute information about everything from city-run after-school programs to parish bulletins.

That effort will go a step further Aug. 1 at 7 p.m., when four West Side Catholic parishes, including St. Martin de Porres; St. Agatha, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd.; Our Lady of Sorrows, 3111 W. Jackson Blvd.; and St. Malachy-Precious Blood, 2248 W. Washington Blvd.; will gather at St. Martin de Porres to pray for an end to the violence. The prayer service will be followed by a discussion and forum for groups and programs aimed at stopping violence.

Walsh said he expects that portion of the evening to include every kind of program from Catholic schools to ex-offender reintegration programs to job programs and programs aimed at preventing domestic violence. Medical, mental health and nutrition initiatives also are invited to participate.

“This is for everybody, not just Catholics,” Walsh said.

Indeed, many of the church’s anti-violence efforts are made in cooperation with people of other faiths. Pfleger said that while St. Sabina’s sharing parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, has sent busloads of people to participate in its anti-violence marches, there have been more participants joining in from Protestant churches.

People from parishes where gun violence is not an immediate and consuming problem can help those who live in the neighborhoods where shootings are more frequent simply by being there.

“It lets people know that they are not alone,” Pfleger said. “It’s an opportunity for people from other parts of the diocese to tell people that we are brothers and sisters.”

It’s also important for everyone to understand that no area is immune to gun violence, Pfleger said. While it is more prevalent in certain neighborhoods, mostly on the south and west sides of Chicago, it can and does happen everywhere.

Parishioners from St. Martin de Porres on a recent Wednesday joined members of other area churches in walking to the home of a family who recently lost someone to gun violence to pray with and comfort the man’s mother and daughter, Walsh said.

It is discouraging to see the shootings continue, Walsh said, although he recalled that when he was pastor of Presentation BVM Parish in the mid-1990s, there were more than 900 homicides a year in Chicago. This year, the city recorded its 200th homicide on July 7.

“The killings are down,” Walsh said. “But I think there are more shootings, more people affected by the shootings.”

Priests must encourage their parishioners to take an active role in the community, Pfleger said.

“We have to speak about it from the pulpit,” he said. “Tell them to be active, not to wait for someone else to do it. You be the one, since you’re a member of our church, to get involved.”

“We tell people they have to be church after church,” Walsh said. “It’s easy to pray for an end to violence in church on Sunday, but if you then get in your locked car and drive to your locked home and stay in your own world, that’s not doing it. … No effort is too small. Even picking up the trash in front of your house shows pride in the community.”

Catholic churches can take a larger role than some other groups because they have resources that others don’t necessarily have, Walsh said.

While the archdiocese has closed many parishes on the West Side in the last 20 to 25 years, those that remain have buildings that can provide space for people to meet. Parishioners include doctors and lawyers and law enforcement personnel and social service administrators.

“We have the resources,” Walsh said. “We just have to bring the resources together.”


  • gun violence
  • peace

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